Mazda Champion: Daniel Bender

The 2014 SCCA Touring 4 National Champion sells Mazdas when he’s not racing them.


The old motorsports saying, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” doesn’t get any more applicable than in the case of Daniel Bender.

In this circumstance, he’s the one doing the winning, in a Touring 4 Mazda MX-5, then selling MX-5s – and 2s, 3s, 6s, CX-5s and CX-9s – as a salesperson at Autobarn Mazda in Evanston, Ill.

Bender is the 2014 Sports Car Club of America National Champion in Touring 4 after winning a hard-fought race at the SCCA Runoffs at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in October. It’s the latest step in a journey that started in karts before moving to Spec Miata, some MX-5 Cup and finally the T4 MX-5. It was with the T4 car that work and play really came together for the second-generation racer.

“I’ve always loved Mazdas, because as a driver I like a very particular feel in my cars. Numb doesn’t work,” Bender says. “When I got done with school, I was looking for a good thing to go into. I love cars and I love Mazdas. I work at Autobarn Mazda and the owner is Richard Fisher, who’s a racer. I knew him through that, and I said, ‘Hey, I can work for you, go racing, and everybody wins.’ Now it works perfectly, because I get to sell what I race and I think that passion has really helped, especially with customers.”

Bender cites Mazda’s penchant for bringing street cars and technology to the track rather than vice-versa and says that a lot of it starts at the dealer level. He notes that his T4 car is a good example, being a mostly stock car per the T4 rules. He, more than anybody, can tell a customer exactly of what the MX-5 is capable, winning the championship with it the first year of campaigning it.

“We were looking ahead for this year, and we sort of took in all the variables about what would lead to the most success, what’s the biggest bang for the buck. Then we had the dealer influence as well, which is a new thing for this year because I started a year ago August. We went through the winter about what we wanted to do, how we could connect the dealership to racing. We had the MX-5 Cup car and it made a lot of sense, we thought about T4. We knew the Runoffs were going to be at Mazda Raceway and the MX-5 sort of owned that track. Luckily the whole program came together with the help of John Doonan at Mazda and Richard Fisher at Autobarn,” he says.

Bender led the first two days of qualifying, and went faster on the third, but not as fast as RX-8 driver Izzy Sanchez. Sanchez jumped out to the lead at the start of the championship race, with Bender falling in behind. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get by, but he credits his MX-5 Cup experience with helping him.

“Racing in a spec car with that level of drivers, you learn a lot of racecraft,” Bender explains. “Izzy was driving so defensively in that race, and obviously I’m not going to punt him off track, so I had to strategically find a way around him. The MX-5 is faster in the corners, better under braking. The RX-8 definitely has the top end, so I couldn’t get him at the end of the straightaways because I wouldn’t be close enough to get him under braking.

“We had the first restart and I noticed he took more of an inside line through the last corner. I made a note to remember that. So we had the second restart; I remembered the first one and thought, ‘Let’s see if he does it again.’ Sure enough, he did a very similar thing where he sort of went up the inside line. I thought, ‘If I take the race line, get a good jump, and if I time it right, I can get him under braking.’ Sure enough, that’s what happened. I came out of 11 right on him. He shifted and the RX-8 loses a bit of torque when it shifts, and I was able to pop out and get close enough to outbrake him into Turn 2.”

Fellow MX-5 driver Tom Wickersham also got by Sanchez in the closing stages of the race, but Sanchez held on to complete a Mazda podium sweep, and in fact a sweep of the top four positions with Ali Naimi in fourth in an MX-5.

National Championship in hand, Bender is now looking at the next step. MX-5 Cup and IMSA Continental Tires Challenge Street Tuner are certainly attractive to a Mazda racer – and they can keep the racing and dealer connection going.

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.